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Joffrey Tour Program: Deuce Coupe, Motown Suite, andSometimes it Snows in April


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#1 bart

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 08:36 PM

The Joffrey is currently touring in Florida with a program of dances to pop music (Beach Boys, Motown hits, and Prince). I saw it at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach.

Has anyone else seen this program?

Duece Coupe, Twyla Tharp:

I must be getting even older than I thought.

The last time I saw Twyla Tharp's Deuce Coupe was with the Joffrey in the early 70s. I remember only a little, but that includes memories of a warm and witty exploration of youthful dancing styles -- starting with a single girl on pointe performing a series of classical ballet steps who is suddenly surrounded by a group of kids dancing to contemporary (late 60s) pop tunes. It was new and seemed worth doing.

The current revival seemed like an entirely different work in style, spirit and execution. The Joffey dancers are young and very skilled, but they seemed to be performing a "dance by numbers" revival of movements (and attitudes) they didn't really relate to. The piece seemed contrived and rather old-fashioned. One short and forgettable Beach Boys tune followed the other. Dancers doodled all over the stage, often with little relationship to each other or to their shared space. There were numerous brief vignettes strung together. It was -- for me, anyway -- incredibly tedious and forgettable.

The only bit I actually remembered from the original season was "Ally Oop." The version tonight -- with half-hearted head shaking and shrugging -- was like a fuzzy short-hand version of what I think I saw 30-plus years ago.

Motown Suite. Donald Byrd

This had two advantages over the Tharp piece. There was a genuine attempt to integrate ballet and non-ballet movement. And the music was better -- or at least more familiar.

Once again: vignettes of teenage life, vintage 1960s. The couple breaking up and coming back together. The flirt who dances with two boys, then leaves the second to go off with the first. The girl clinging to the boy who wants to reject her. The boy who's been rejected relieving his anger and frustration in a bit of bravura, athletic dancing. The opening of the high school hop, boys on one side of the stage, girls on the other, with boys slowly approaching girls to ask them to dance.

Ultimately, each song became a story, usually tied much too literally to the words. The dancers seemed to be dancing the lyrics rather than the music. There were a few times when I expected some of the dancers actually to start lip-synching.

I found myself thinking, wistfully, of how much better Jerome Robbins did this in West Side Story.

The ballet had (I think) 19 dancers. Individuals, couples and small groups did their own thing in the background as others did their own thing in front. In defense of this approach, it does seem to be the way teenagers often relate to each other when out in society.

There were a few wonderful images that I won't quickly forget. A girl in lilac leaned against the back of a kneeling boy, extending her leg in arabesque. Then she turned away from him and rested her back on the back of his shoulder.. He rose and walked offstage carrying the girl, who appeared to float behind him. A totally committed dancer in the back -- wearing light blue -- tried out ballet steps (plie in second on pointe) and flailed her arms as she almost lost balance. (As with Lucy in Peanuts, the serious girl making a mistake and fighting it can be very funny.) A girl with long blond hair who looked like she'd been around the block a few times, gazed at an unhappy boy with a look that said she actually understood and cared about what he was feeling, then turned and walked thoughtfully into the wings.

Sometimes it Snows in April (from Billboards). Laura Dean. Music by Prince.

18 dancers, all in white and silver costumes. This was the most balletic, and the closest of the three to pure dance I appreciated the ensemble work, the periods of unison dancing, and the extreme athleticism of the movements. I loved the huge jumps, one after the other, in which everyone participated.

Only towards the end -- as the dancing became faster and more in unison -- did the thought cross my mind: This is like an aerobics class. It was an aerobics class in a very high-level college dance program, but an aeorbics class nonetheless.

This piece brought the only sustained applause of the evening, along with the now obligatory standing ovation.

Lesson learned from all of this : Music without depth or complexity produces dancing in its own image.

Even when the melodies are nice.

Even when the audience knows the lyrics.

And, sadly, even when the dancers are attractive, young, talented, and willing to dance their hearts out.


#2 vrsfanatic

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 04:19 AM

Yes, I was there bart. Wonderful dancers. Not so interesting program, yet they had so very much to do. There was one heck of a lot of dancing. WOW. :P

Let's give Mr. Wheater this season to get his repetoire for next season in place. Often programing has reasons beyond what we, the audience may know. The dancers are very good which is a credit in itself. I am sure there are new and wonderful things in the works for the future of this wonderful company. :dunno:

Edited by vrsfanatic, 19 January 2008 - 04:00 PM.


#3 Treefrog

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 07:34 AM

Bart, you've done such a wonderful job summing up my own reactions to this program. I've seen it -- or its components -- several times in the last two years. I really hope Mr. Wheater takes the company in some direction away from this tripe.

There is a perception that energetic, 'youthful' pieces such as these will bring in a different audience. But I think you've hit the nail on the head: uninspired recreations of boring choreography to dated music won't really please anyone.

If you ever get the chance, contrast the current version of Sometimes It Snows In April to the more contemporaneous version that airs occasionally on the Ovation channel. The quality of the dancing is totally different.

#4 bart

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 04:30 PM

Thanks for that Heads Up about another version of Sometimes it Snows in April. I will definitely look for it. While googling, I found that Joffrey performed the piece in Pittsburgh last March, but paired it with material significantly more interesting than what we saw here -- Apollo and Green Table. There would definitely have been a market for that triple bill in West Palm, where former and part-time New Yorkers have experience with and fond memories of both the Balanchine and the Joost works.

There is a perception that energetic, 'youthful' pieces such as these will bring in a different audience. But I think you've hit the nail on the head: uninspired recreations of boring choreography to dated music won't really please anyone.

I think that Boards everywhere are prone to this approach.

Ashley Wheater seems to be a serious artist. He's inherited extraordinarily well prepared dancers from those who came before him. With care, the dancers should do honor to the best of the company's existing reperetory of major ballets as well as attracting talented choreographers for the creation of new work. Those of you who live in Chicago probably have a lot of exciting times ahead of you. :thumbsup:

#5 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 17 January 2008 - 05:35 PM

The Joffrey is currently touring in Florida

...which includes West Palm Beach, Sarasota and Naples and not-(of course as expected)- our "lost city" -(aka Miami) :thumbsup:

#6 bart

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 01:47 PM

About last spring's program: Which matched Deuce Coupe with Apollo and Green Table.

Here's Susan Reiter's review of a performance on Long Island, from Danceviewtimes. It's informative and interesting about Deuce Coupe.

I wish the dancers in the photos had been identified. Several -- the girl with the long blond hair, for instance -- were impressive on Wednesday. But there was no way to figure out who any of the dancers were. One of the frustrations of the program on Wednesday was that -- although the Kravis printed a full-page of information about the Artistic Director, who arrived long after all these works were set -- the dancers were listed only by name and in format which made it impossible to guess who most of them were. No photos; no bios. These individual artists deserved better.

#7 Treefrog

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 02:31 PM

Perhaps you can match faces to names here. If you roll your cursor over the faces, names will appear. If you click the face, you'll get a portrait, performance photo, and biography. Or you can click the solitary arrow to scroll through the whole company alphabetically.

Let us know if you figure out this mystery. If not, maybe you could post the cast list and one of us could help figure out who it was.

#8 bart

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Posted 19 January 2008 - 09:08 PM

Thanks, Treefrog. The girl with long blond hair was Maia Wilkins; the girl in blue who reminded me of Lucy (her role, I mean) was Erica Lynette Edwards. I couldn't identify the dark-haired girl in lilac (possibly Victoria Jaiani?).

I recognized and remembered others, but those young women were the three who stuck most in my mind.

#9 motwins8391

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 10:27 AM

I wish the dancers in the photos had been identified. Several -- the girl with the long blond hair, for instance -- were impressive on Wednesday. But there was no way to figure out who any of the dancers were. One of the frustrations of the program on Wednesday was that -- although the Kravis printed a full-page of information about the Artistic Director, who arrived long after all these works were set -- the dancers were listed only by name and in format which made it impossible to guess who most of them were. No photos; no bios. These individual artists deserved better.


I completely agree. This new format, with casting printed on weekly inserts without dancer photos, started this past fall and it has a makeshift feel. These artists DO deserve better. And how can the Joffrey build a knowledgeable audience when the audience can't easily identify the dancers?

#10 Treefrog

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 02:59 PM

You have good taste, Bart!

If the Joffrey had ranks, Maia Wilkins would be a principal of the highest rank. You can count on seeing her as Giselle, Cinderella, Juliet, Kate (in Taming of the Shrew), and Sugar Plum Fairy. But of course, in the Joffrey's way of doing things you also get to see her as part of the corps. I think she is very expressive in just the way you mentioned -- a little look goes a long, long way with her.

Erica Lynette Edwards is one of my personal favorites. (You know ... if you had identified your mystery dancer as African-American I could have told you right off the bat who she was. Now that you have ID'ed her, I remember she was dancing the role in light blue.) She has tons of energy and attack; she is very spirited and takes every role to the max. It won't surprise you to know that she gets roles like Spanish and Russian in Nutcracker -- and, frankly, I'd like to see her as Kate.

#11 bart

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 07:11 PM

I'm glad to hear this about both dancers, treefrog. Edwards as Kate -- yes! I see what you mean.

This new format, with casting printed on weekly inserts without dancer photos, started this past fall and it has a makeshift feel. These artists DO deserve better. And how can the Joffrey build a knowledgeable audience when the audience can't easily identify the dancers?

I assumed this was only for the tour and thought that possibly this was a money-saving step on the part of the Playbill people. I'm shocked that they also do it in Chicago. I aagree with you: it's not only unfair but also bad marketing.

I wonder: Was the new policy every explained? Is there some sort of philosophy behind it?

#12 motwins8391

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Posted 20 January 2008 - 09:08 PM

I wonder: Was the new policy every explained? Is there some sort of philosophy behind it?


Not that I know of and none that I know of!


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